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Born Looser

Love, Sister, it’s just a kiss away– Jagger/Richards

December 8, 2003

I live in the Chiclets Mansion in Park Slope, Brooklyn. What is now my studio sublet used to be one of many bedrooms in a large residence owned by the man who invented Chiclets Gum. Chiclets are like regular gum, only smaller. Not exactly the hula hoop but a good enough invention to make the guy rich. It’s one proven route to success: take something somebody else has invented and shrink it.

There’s some history to my new residence. I got the lowdown this summer from the quirky chick upstairs who told me the place is haunted. She related the story of a butler who hung himself in a bedroom closet many years ago. Then, last week, my landlord set my mind at ease and gave me the real scoop. She told me this information was false and that the real story was that two caretakers had gotten trapped in the very small passenger elevator just outside my door and died.

Much relieved, I reflected on this new bit of information yesterday as I took the stairs down to check my mailbox. I don’t get much addressed to me but have inexplicably ended up on the list of several charitable organizations. I assume it has something to do with my New Yorker subscription, forwarded from California. Having no regular work makes these solicitations more amusing than annoying and also makes me feel like less of a loner. At least there are a few things with my name on them in there.


I was chatting with the documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles in his Manhattan office last week. Maysles made Gimme Shelter, the 1970 film on the Rolling Stones, and is credited with revolutionizing the documentary form. I have a history of meeting famous people and having no idea who they are. This happened with the late author Ken Kesey whom I met through my friend Bob. I hung out at Kesey’s Oregon dairy farm where we had dinner and watched an NBA playoff game. Later, he gave me a book and autographed it “To Rick from Ken Who?”

More interesting than my lack of familiarity with Maysles was the source of this particular introduction. I hadn’t seen Kelly, my mildly disoriented pal from the Fall Cafe, since late summer. But he kept in touch with infrequent email, addressing them “Dear looser” and ending with such gems as “if you were any slower you’d be going backwards.” When I tried to correct his spelling on “loser” he pointed out that the two o’s were for “double zero.” Kelly drops a lot of big names, preceded with the three words “my dear friend.” But as it happened, he really knew this guy. Sort of.

It turned out Maysles was familiar with my family’s motion picture lab in California and I was able to hold a decent conversation by dropping references to my father’s old-time contacts in the film business. I never mentioned that my dad hates filmmakers, as it didn’t seem appropriate. Kelly was there, ostensibly, to discuss creating an audio device that would remove the clunking sound of train tracks from a railroad documentary Maysles was working on. This part of the conversation didn’t go as smoothly and was strangely reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” routine.


The snow finally arrived with two big storms over the weekend. Snow is a lot like a Budweiser bikini model; it’s nice to look at but wears on you when you have to live with it. I’ve seen plenty of it in California, spending many winter weeks in the Sierras at Lake Tahoe. But in that context snow is more a destination – something you travel to and enjoy and then leave behind. Out here it’s part of the everyday picture and can lend a harsh edge to otherwise normal activities. Doing one’s laundry or picking up groceries takes on an entirely new dimension. It’s all rather pretty from my angle though, as I’ve yet to join the ranks of the working stiff, sloshing through the ice to catch a seven a.m. subway every morning. Perhaps I do know what I’m doing after all.

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